Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Roundup of Links

I'm laboring under the burden of rewriting and editing 3 books right now (not to mention the day job and the last week of school for all these children who insist I'm their mother), so just a quick rush through the past week in self-publishing.

The big news was that Barry Eisler signed a deal with Amazon's new mystery/thriller imprint. Depending on who was shouting loudest at the moment, this was a great thing, a cop-out, a smart move, a bait-and-switch, a death knell for the Big Six, a death knell for self-publishing, the key to nirvana, or the incantation that starts the apocalypse. Writers can be a little overwrought.  More about the new imprint here.

Robin Wright at Write2Publish, has several interesting posts regarding book sales numbers, the BEA, Eisler's deal, and various sundry publishing things.

Via Dean Wesley Smith, Dear Author shows that you don't have to design your cover yourself  to have it suck.

And speaking of Dean Wesley Smith, he has a swell post about what will kill you career and what definitely won't.

Michael Stackpole has an enjoyable post on the extinction, or not, of the book. 

And just for fun, a few blogs by writers that are just cool to read and a great way to kill time/inspire yourself/learn something/wait for the zombie apocalypse. Drop by or follow them on Twitter!

Albert Berg's Unsanity Files

Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds

Evelyn LaFont's Keyboard Hussy

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Smashwords Premium Review - Revenge Of The Formatting

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Teeth has been reviewed - after 12 days - for inclusion in the Premium Catalog. It was sent back to me because of an improperly formatted .ncx file. If you are saying 'Bwa?' right now, congratulations! You appear to be telepathic and are getting signals directly from my brain.
Turns out the .ncx file is made automatically and is not something you build separately, so don't worry about that. What they MEAN is that my Table of Contents was messed up. I'd tested my table of contents when I uploaded it, and it worked. The only oddity was that it showed an extra link to chapter 1, but since I hadn't put any other links in and the ToC worked just fine, I let it go at the time.
It worked out for the best. Because Smashwords really is pretty helpful, they pointed me to the specific part of the Style Guide involved. There were two things that I hadn't done. One, apparently your ToC absolutely must be in 'normal' style, not any other. Fine, I made it 'normal' style instead of 'heading', the other option that's allowable for chapter headings. But I don't think that was the issue.
The issue was Hidden Hyperlinks. You see, Microsoft Word hates you. It is not your friend, it won't call you in the morning, and it's badmouthing you behind your back to your friends. It is inserting 'hidden' hyperlinks the whole time you're working. It doesn't tell you, and it doesn't show them on the page, and they don't do anything useful for you whatsoever. It doesn't even show them on your hyperlinks list. Their ONLY purpose is to totally screw up an .ncx file. Fortunately, when you're adding your own bookmarks there's a button you can press to see them, and then you can erase them. DO THIS LAST. The absolute last thing before you save and quit. Why? Because Microsoft Word hates you so much it will keep adding them, and the only way to be sure they're all erased is to save immediately after they're deleted.
On the plus side, this gave me an excuse to fix a leftover typo someone spotted. I hate those. It's like giving a child legos. You will never, ever find them all. And after I reuploaded I checked the new versions and the ToC looks nice and clean.
I just wish it didn't take 12 days to review!
As a side note, do not ever, ever get so busy proofreading and preparing your work for publishing that you forget to do new writing of your own. You will curl up and die, left to be blown around by life like a dry and withered spider corpse.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Self-Publishing: the Same Arguments, Repeated

The apparent fight between the self-pub camps and the trad-pub camps shows no signs of abating. I think that's a shame, because there's no putting the self-publishing toothpaste back in the tube and the sooner people realize that, the sooner we can all go about the business of making both the e-publishing platform and the traditional publishing platform better for both writers and readers.

Jane Friedman's There Are No Rules blog had an interesting post: The Self-Pub is Crap Debate. The comments there are interesting and led to a follow-up post: 8 Things Readers Want From Self-Published Authors.   I also came across a nice little post by  by David Gaughran: The Biggest Mistakes Self-Publishers make. I have to say I'm pretty much in agreement with Jane that there is no winning side in this debate, and I still am sometimes amazed that the pro and con camps are so vehement.

The arguments go on. There's an interesting guest post on Konrath's blog by author Stephen Leather  in which Leather tells the old lie that anything with merit will eventually be published. No judgment on the rest of the post, some of which I agree with, but that is a sentence filled with breathtaking bullshit. (And bullshit almost always promulgated by people who have been successfully published.) Another interesting post by Konrath outlines move to boycott the new Amazon mystery imprint by indie bookstores.  Um, what?

One thing that I find undeniable is that there IS a ton of self-published crap. It's like having the entirety of a slush pile published. A) I don't think there's a way around that. B) I don't think it's going to kill self-publishing as a vibrant pathway for authors to publish.

As far as I can tell, the anti-self-publishing crowd is incensed at letting the hoi polloi into the secret circle. Apparently the riff-raff will soon be drinking out of the finger bowls and cleaning their ears with the seafood forks. They have made the mistake of believing that editors are the only arbiters of  "merit." As I have previously said, editors don't so much care about art as they do commerce. Given a choice between a fantastic book that's hard to market and a terrible book that'll make a mint, they'll pick the money EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Thankfully it's not usually that either/or choice, but really, kids, grow up. Publishing is now, more than ever, a bottom line business, not a happy little gated community where your gorgeous metaphor is going to let you sit at the grown-up's table.

Traditional publishing isn't dying, but it will change. It can't not change. Whatever truths you hold self-evident today will likely change drastically in the next 20 years. I'm not sure how, and anybody who tells you they know how is a two-bit con artist, but they will change. It behooves you to keep an open mind.

Now back to that nasty slush-pile of crap that storms through the un-kept self-publishing gates every day. Yes, probably 80%, if not more, of what gets published shouldn't be published. It's either not yet ready or it's produced by people who are totally delusional about their abilities. If you've spent any time in the publishing/writing business, been part of writer's group, critique groups, attended conferences and workshops, you know the delusional people. Sometimes you can see them a mile away, sometimes they look just like you and me. On the downside, it's hard to convince the delusional that they're delusional. On the upside, they tire easily.

For years and years, the delusional people have been relegated to frittering away their life's savings to vanity publishers or scrawling tear-stained missives to cruel editors who just can't see their genius. Now, everyone's got a free coupon to publish anything they want! Yay! Er, Boo! No, wait...

See, the thing is, you can't control what other people are going to do. In a perfect world people would be self-aware and reasonable and have self-restraint and good judgment. If you find that world, please leave a detailed map for the rest of us so we can visit there.

As a writer, you have one responsibility: don't be the one of the delusional people. Be self-aware and reasonable and show good judgment. Work at your craft. Don't take the easy way out. Work hard and be honest about your capabilities. Seek help when you need to. There is nothing that I or anyone else is going to say that is going to stop the delusional people from publishing their work right alongside yours. The fact that they're doing so should not stop you. The only thing you're ever going to be able to control is your own work. And that, kids, is the beauty of self-publishing.

One more thing: one thing I've heard a lot of whining about lately is the fact that what you see mostly on self-publishing blogs is chit-chat about mechanics and marketing and how to self-publish, and you rarely see people discussing improving the craft. There's lots of good reasons for that. Improving your craft is not something you should go looking through blog posts to do (unless of course, you're delusional). If you're reading people's blogs to learn how to write, best of luck. Rather than try to explain that, I'm going to be lazy and refer you to Evelyn LaFont at The Keyboard Hussy on This Is Why I Don't Read Your Writing Advice Posts.

Now go read a book.

Adventures in Formatting - Part 3: Kindle, the Final Frontier

First an update: in the interim between posts, the short stories published to Smashwords have all been accepted to the Premium Catalogue, which provides distribution through various other outlets, including Barnes and Noble' s Nook, the Apple iBookstore, Kobo, Diesel, etcetera. Final thoughts? Following the Smashwords Style Guide to the letter will produce a properly formatted manuscript across all platforms.

Now, on to the Kindle. People get nervous about formatting for the Kindle, because it's important to have a professional product that looks good on the e-reader. One of the biggest complaints readers have is poorly formatted e-books.

We first assumed that we would be able to just upload the Mobi file produced by Smashwords into the Kindle interface and that would be it. Well, not so fast. First, as Richard mentioned earlier, make sure you take out your Smashwords information and change it to Kindle information. We noticed that after we had uploaded the first manuscript. Oops.

Second, carefully check the Kindle preview. Everything looked great, except for the fact that we lost all paragraph indents. I'm still not sure why. I did some research and anecdotal information indicated that it would show up fine once published, even though we couldn't get it to look right in Kindle Preview. Not willing to trust that, we endeavored to fix it.

What we finally did was save the manuscript in "filtered HTML" in Word. We then zipped the saved file and uploaded it. But then none of our internal graphics showed up. OH NOES! Back to the forums, where we learned that we had to add each individual graphic to the zip file and upload the whole thing. With that done, the package showed up correctly in the Kindle preview with everything intact.

Yahtzee! It only took an hour or two (with all the research added in) to get a Kindle e-book that is indistinguishable from a professionally formatted e-book. After two days, the books had gone through the Amazon approval process and were live.

So what we learned from the exercise outlined in these formatting posts? That even if you're pretty much a technical noob, as long as you can follow directions you can format your own books and you can do it as well as someone you would pay to do it.

If you're looking at self-publishing, you have four areas where you may incur expenses: design, editing, proofreading, and formatting. While I'm attempting to do all of these at no cost, each individual author will have to look at their budget and decided what they can pay for and what they NEED to pay for. I would say that if your budget is squeezed, formatting is the one area where you can learn how to perform the task as well as a professional.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sweet Dreams On Kindle

Note to all and sundry: Don't upload your stories to Kindle Direct Publishing with the copyright information for Smashwords still on the front page. Oopsie!

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Teeth is now on Amazon, my first major retailer! Smashwords is still 'in review' for the Premium Catalog, and they don't tell you how long that takes. Next plans: Pretty up my blog a bit more, and get some dang writing done. I'd like to write The Doll House: Lapis Lazuli and publish three Doll House stories at once. ...heck, I'd like to write after a month of really abominable stuff that got in the way.

But in honor of there now being somewhere for people to buy my book, have a sample! I thought this section from the first chapter would best illustrate Fang's life:

From Chapter I of Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Teeth

In a few nights I’d gone from avoiding everyone but Jeffery to having personal conversations with people I would have sworn would never want to talk to something like me at all. The whole idea made me feel uncomfortable at first, but then I just gave up.

“It’s an act, right?” I asked her frankly. “You’re putting on a show. I don’t talk to a lot of demons, but you don’t look or act like this.”

Rather than be offended she reached out a wing, heedless of the occasional drop of blood it left on the flowers, and brushed the pile into an arc. “Is this an act?” she countered with an impish smile, “Are these really your feelings?”

“Sort of?” I hedged. She’d made her point.

She held out her hand, smiling, and introduced, “I’m Lily.”

I laid my paw in it. I can shake. “Fang.”

We both ended up snickering. Half the demonesses in the Dark are named something like Lilith, and half the nightmares are Fang or Claw or something. Names so generic they had to be real.

She had never put down the flower, and now she was touching it again. I had to listen to a demon actually try to sound gentle as she asked, “The girl these are for – she’s another nightmare, I take it? Are these really what she wants?”

She’d gone straight to the question I’d been trying to avoid. Of course. “I don’t know what she wants,” I had to admit, “But probably not. Someone suggested flowers and the best I can do is give her so many it has to get her attention.”

“I know I’d be impressed by the effort,” she admitted, “But I’d trade a house full of regular flowers for just one, if it was picked because it was perfect for me. Think about that.”

I thought about it. It was an idea. This certainly wasn’t working.

It also would have been easier without an actual angel hanging around behind the border watching, but Lily seemed to be interested and how do you tell someone like her she makes you nervous? Thanks to Jeffery’s never-ending attempts to teach me to be more subtle I thought I knew what to do. It wasn’t hard to find the right dream. All this hunting for dreams with flowers in them had made me sensitive, and the hard part was waiting for one to drift close to the border. I wanted one on the edge.

When I broke into the one I’d picked I saw flowers, but only a few. The dream was a sort of a forest, or a garden, or something in-between. I couldn’t even tell if the dreamer was male or female. They were just a vague shape drifting peacefully through a lush arbor.

This wasn’t about the chase. It was about setting a mood. I hid myself inside a tree until the dreamer floated past. As it did I shoved my head out through the trunk, letting the skin of the tree cling to me as I snapped and growled, claws showing through a branch and thrashing at the dreamer. By the time I ripped through and leaped out onto the grass the whole dream had changed. We were in the Dark now, and everything had turned grey and shadowy, and the dreamer had sharpened into a young man in bulky pajamas. He wasn’t drifting anymore but running, dashing through bushes and between trees to escape me in the little forest.

But most dreams just aren’t that big. Seconds later I leapt out of the dark at him from another direction, and when I let him pull out of sight I just waited for him to loop around and did it again. Now he was stuck in the Dark and everything was changing shape, but I couldn’t let this be a dream about a big, black dog. The next time he passed by it was a pile of moss that fell out of the web-haunted branches in front of him and I was inside it, just snapping teeth and a body forming out of the grey strands. When he escaped that I found a little patch of sunflowers in a clearing. They had almost faded into the shadows, but I hid myself in one and as the dreamer was about to run right through them I lunged.

I didn’t break out. Like the tree I stretched the skin of the flower over me, giving it a muzzle that reached, snapping with violent bloodlust to either side because I was getting into it now. The rest of the sunflowers stopped fading and grew their own teeth, and as I forced an arm out and started dragging myself towards him with my claws they were mutating too. Behind him thorns sprouted from the trunk of a tree and its branches curled around to yank him in, and as I burst free of the sunflower the dreamer woke up.

Around me the dream spasmed, but it didn’t pop. I was actually proud as I looked around. Every vine twitched threateningly, every leaf had an oozing sheen, bushes thrashed and bit with a hundred mouths. The dream had taken on a sense of identity. It knew what it was. A new nightmare was waking up.

I had come here with a purpose, though. A clump of flowers with heavy purple-and-black blooms edged with teeth and shifting, slitted eyes between the petals – that was perfect. I grabbed a bunch of stems in my jaws and tore them free, and with a squeal of pain the dream broke up.

They were gorgeous and the dream had been so close to consciousness, so specific, they weren’t going to fade any time soon. They might never fade at all. That didn’t mean I wasted any time. I bolted through the vague mists that are so much of the Dark as fast as four legs could go, only partly because Lily was whistling appreciatively behind me.

My Muse’s house had lodged in some kind of withered field, so dead grass stretched all around it as far as I could see and above its peaked roof hung a crescent moon. It was a good place for her to have wandered, and I hoped she’d stay there because I thought it looked very pretty. At least, I thought that as I barged in through her front door and raced into the sitting room. I might have been hurrying too much. I had to make turns through several rooms, ducking back into the same hallway a second time until I found the right door. The house was trying to keep me out.

But there she was. The flowers from before were gone already, but they’d been so out of place here it was no wonder they hadn’t survived. These flowers were better, and I padded up to her as calmly as I could and laid them in her lap. The vivid markings of them, with the wine colored lace on her dress, were the only real colors in the room. The eye in each flower still moved, peering up at her, at me, at everything, hostile and staring and not quite intelligent.

But still nothing happened. I sighed as the quiet sobbing continued. The flowers at least would last a long time. I hoped they’d be there in her lap forever.

Something touched my shoulder. Lily had caught up to me, or that weird little girl Anna had dropped by again. I looked around, both proud and embarrassed, but what I saw was a thin chain stretching out of the floor, hooking itself into my spiked collar.

I felt a sudden tension. A light thrill of fear that didn’t come from anything, that was impressed from outside. Shadows in the corners of the room went pitch-black, and the four statues were looking at me.

A dream had formed around the house, but this time there was no dreamer. This was my dream and she was my nightmare. More pale lines snaked out and took hold of my legs, and they were starting to pull me back towards a blank stretch of wall. The four statues, a man and a woman and two little boys, were watching me with expectant faces. Four people encased in something white and stuck in the wall.

I was in trouble.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Teeth

I am here to report that, if anything, publishing a novel with Smashwords is easier than a short story. I was #6 in the queue, and had it uploaded in moments. AutoVetter is reporting no errors, and now I await Premium Catalog evaluation and, with Keri's help, try to figure out how to get the world to know it exists.

Speaking of which... no, one more thing. For me, the formatting was easy. What took so long? Cover art. Take this as a lesson: Every writer will have slightly different resources and priorities, and you do the best with what you have. I know a number of artists, but I felt that the cover is my book's 'face', and I wanted a cover that was the best I could possibly get and suited the book itself. For my short stories a cover that is merely good will do. I was lucky enough to know Carolyn Laplante just well enough that she gave me a heavy discount on what you see below. It was well worth waiting and paying for.

And now, without further ado:

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Teeth, by Richard Roberts
Available from Smashwords.

Have you ever had the nightmare of being chased by a beast? Then you've met Fang. He'll be the first to admit that he's a very simple nightmare. All he knows is hunting your dreams and dragging them into the Dark. He's not ready for his life to get complicated. He's not ready to be dragged into his best friend's schemes to make dreams so terrifying they break people. He's not ready to love, or to be loved, or to meet someone who makes him happy. He's definitely not ready for those to be three different girls.

He's not ready to grow up.

When he does, one thing will stay the same. He'll stay an artist, and he'll paint your dreams with fear until they're beautiful.

EDIT - And because I'm here to help other writers and not just sell myself, let me add a funny story! Always download and check your final file. I found out that the funny little fat . that was showing up in my .doc version was... well, I have no idea even now what it was. But in .epub it made every line of my table of contents a new page. I have no idea how it got there, but I reformatted that text from scratch and it's gone and life is good!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Adventures in Formatting - Part 2: Uploading, or Not So Fast, Pardner

The last time we left our intrepid heroine, er, me, I was telling the thrilling tale of uploading my first manuscript to the Smashwords Meatgrinder. What did we learn last time, kids? That's right: TABS BAD. And the space bar is not your friend, so ignore its siren call.

So we had a cover. We had a formatted file that contained a title page, "front matter" (that's your copyright, attributions for design, etcetera), a linked table of contents, the story, a short "about the story" feature, and previews of two upcoming novels that included covers, blurbs, and a sample first chapter. I wanted to really test the formatting by making it a complex file.

In studying about the different file formats Smashwords will provide you with, we learned that everything is not going to look exactly the same in every format. For example, some formats will not honor your page breaks. Ouch. This is a nightmare for the OCD-afflicted among us. Some people will go the route of formatting for each separate platform separately, but I found that I could get things to look good without going that route, so I'm just letting Smashwords create those files for me right now.

One thing we did decide to do, however, was to insert glyphs to indicate section breaks so that in the formats where page breaks vanish, everything would still look separate and organized. To do this we searched for free clipart gifs, found one we liked, saved the file, resized it to be small enough, then inserted it according to the instructions in the Smashwords Style Guide. Worked like a charm. The trick is to pick something simple, black, and distinct enough so that it still looks like what it's supposed to when it's tiny.

We went with the cat because it was still clear when reduced. The quill pen is cool, but became sort of abstract small.

So with that done, we uploaded all our stuff for the first story to the Meatgrinder and were put into the queue. A LONG queue. It took about 48 hours to finish. I clicked through on my Smashwords dashboard and was greeted with three AutoVetter errors. Oops. (And even though there a button saying "Submit for Review" after the error list that's just begging to be pushed, don't push it until you've fixed your errors.)

The three AutoVetter errors: tabs, spacebar, cover image too small. We went back through the files, and sure enough there was a single forgotten tab left in. Since we had combined several files into a single manuscript, there was a spot where we hadn't double-checked. Likewise an extra space at the start of a paragraph. We found them by turning on the formatting view and dispensed with them.

As for the cover being too small, that was a bonehead move on my part. When I'd "saved for web" on the cover, I'd forgotten to set my pixels to 800x1200. I just reopened the cover in Photoshop and changed the setting and we were good to go.

So we uploaded the single story again. This time it took about 24 hours, and the manuscript came through with a clean bill of health. We dutifully checked it out in every format. (You'll need Kindle for PC to check your .mobi file and Adobe Digital Editions to check your ePub file, but both are free downloads.)

I'm published! Yay! We submitted it for review to go into the Premium Catalogue and, using what we had learned, formatted the next three packages. While the first package had taken about 8 hours of work, each subsequent one took about 1.5 hours. (No doubt it will be longer with the novels, but not too bad.) At the end of the process, the next three short stories had no errors and went live. Success!

It's been a week now and, while I'm still waiting on admission to the Premium Catalogue, I've had over 200 downloads. No reviews yet (disappointing), but I'm looking at it as more than 200 people who have seen my name and been made aware of the novels that are coming soon. Most importantly, I found that I could produce a professional-looking ebook without spending a ton of money.

Next up - Adventures in Formatting - Part 3: Kindle, the Final Frontier

Friday, May 6, 2011

Adventures in Formatting - Part 1: Going Nuclear

As mentioned previously, I decided to try out formatting by releasing four short stories on Smashwords and Kindle. They're all live -- whoo-hoo -- so it's time for an overview of what I learned.

I found the thought of formatting rather daunting, first of all because you read a lot of anecdotes about the trouble people have with formatting. There's also the fact that so many writers pay to have their formatting done. But since I'm all about the DIY, I decided we would do our own formatting and see how it went. Verdict? Although there were a few bumps and blind alleys, it wasn't hard at all.

We started out with the Smashwords Style Guide, which is a free download from Smashwords. We worked in Word 2010 (this will be an important fact later). You will need to work in some word processing program that will save your file as a .doc file.  I gathered up all the files -- cover, story, bonus content files -- and put them in one folder. (A separate folder for each short story.) Since the stories had all been written at different times and in different word processor versions, I first went with Smashwords "nuclear option". This entails copying your text and pasting it into Notepad, closing Word, then opening a fresh Word file and pasting the text from Notepad back into Word. This, theoretically, strips out all the wonky Word formatting. Please note the word "theoretically."

Two important lessons here: the nuclear option is NOT FOOLPROOF. Regardless of the care you take and regardless of common sense, formatting gremlins in Word are tenacious. You'll still need to double-check your text.  Second lesson learned? NEVER USE THE TAB KEY AND NEVER HIT THE SPACE BAR MORE THAN ONCE. Yes, I'm shouting. Write it on a post-it and put it where you can see it all times. Tattoo it on you hand. Henceforth, you will only indent by using your paragraph format option and you will never try to adjust spacing with the space bar.  NEVER.

Okay. Now that your "clean" text is back in Word, you have to format it. You do this by selecting all your text, going into your paragraph formatting box and setting things thus: Indentation, Special, First Line, 0.3". Then set your line spacing at 1.5 lines. Hit OK. That's it.

Now you want to check. Do a search for ^t and replace with nothing. Turn on your formatting view (Tools, Options, Formatting marks, All) and look for anything that is not a paragraph return at the end of a paragraph or a single space between words. If you find something, kill it. At this point, you'll have to add any special formatting you need, such as italics for interior thought, etcetera.

Now follow the Smashwords Style Guide to the letter in setting up your page breaks, titles, etcetera. It really covers everything in a step-by-step manner that's easy to follow. That's it; you should have a file that is ready to upload to the Smashwords Meatgrinder.

Next up: Adventures in Formatting Part 2: Uploading, or Not So Fast, Pardner